NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The average life expectancy for a man in Tennessee is 71 years, three years below the already declining national average, according to a recently published Washington Post analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Life expectancy captures so many things – income, education, addiction, obesity, and many lifestyle behaviors – as well as access to health care,” explained health economist Melinda Buntin, Ph.D.

Nationwide, life expectancy has been going down, according to the CDC. As of 2021, the latest publicly available data, the average is about 76 years, which is the lowest it’s been in a quarter century.

Buntin attributes the decline to overlapping epidemics such as COVID-19, opioids, and obesity.

However, even among declining numbers nationwide, the Volunteer State ranks 46th in life expectancy out of all 50 states.

“Tennessee has relatively low income and education levels on average compared to other states. We also have very high rates of smoking and issues like opioid addiction, obesity, and cardiac disease,” Buntin said.

The average life expectancy in Tennessee is about 75 years. Tennessee women have six more years of life on average than men with a life expectancy of 77 years.

Yet that number can vary from zip code to zip code.

“If you’re a resident of Davidson County, as I was, your life expectancy and the health context in which you live is dramatically different than if you lived, for example, in far northwestern Tennessee, in Lake County, where your life expectancy would be three years shorter,” Buntin said.

Buntin added there is still hope for Tennessee to improve life expectancy by increasing education levels, increasing the average income, and improving health care access among other remedies.

“We have in Tennessee some excellent medical facilities where people can get some of the best care anywhere, but we also have places where people have extreme difficulty in accessing basic health care services,” Buntin said.

With millions in opioid settlement money coming into Tennessee, Buntin believes now is a “historic moment” to improve the quality of life and life expectancy for Tennesseans if used appropriately.

By addressing each of these aspects of life, Buntin said Tennessee lawmakers and leaders cannot only help their constituents live longer lives, but better ones.